Questions to ask before a new kindergarten English class
Pre-school English classes often raise particular challenges that are not nearly so frequent even in primary schools, such as children studying English for the first time, the school offering English classes for the first time, classes for as little as an hour a week, and a wide range of approaches to teaching and types of classroom. Many of these potential difficulties can be dealt with in advance by school managers, teachers in the kindergarten, teachers from outside, or managers of organisations providing teachers to kindergartens asking themselves or others the questions below. Please note that there are far too many questions below for you to be able to ask them all at once! Many of these questions are things that vary from country to country more than from school to school, so you might be able to find out the information before talking to the kindergarten. Alternatively, they could be things to keep in mind when you visit the school, teach your first lesson etc, with a mind to asking them later.
Exactly what ages are they?
Do they have experience of being in kindergarten classes or other places where they mix with kids their own age?
What are their physical skills (catching, using scissors), social skills (working together, sharing, enjoying working in a team) etc likely to be like?
What songs, stories, crafts, classroom routines etc are they used to from home and their other classes?
Have they studied English before? Are they likely to have watched English language TV etc?
Are they likely to be mixed level or will they all be the same level?
Have they been put into class by level or (more likely) by age?
What internationally known characters, songs, TV programmes etc are they likely to be familiar with?
What mood are the students likely to be in, e.g. what classes and activities do the students have before and after class, e.g. sports, break, naptime, lunch, other English lessons, preparation for their English lesson with their regular teacher?
Will the children be regular students of the kindergarten, students coming in especially for an English lesson, or a mixture of the two?
If there are students or parents coming to check out the lessons before they sign up (either to the English lessons or to the kindergarten), will they expect to join in or just watch?
Can they do things you are thinking of covering like count and tell their age in their own language?
Will there be other adults in the room with you, e.g. a teaching assistant or their usual teacher? If it is their usual teacher, will you be helping them or will they be helping you? What will whoever is in the class with you want to and be willing to do, e.g. deal with discipline problems and crying, translate, introduce you at the beginning of the lesson, walk the students into and out of the classroom, get them sitting in position before you start teaching? If there is no one in class with you, can you call someone if you really need to?
Will parents be in or near the class, e.g. with young children or kids who are just starting kindergarten?
The teacher’s role
If there is a teacher in class, will you be helping them or will they be helping you? Will you have the chance to meet up and plan the lesson together? If not, will one of you plan the lesson or will you plan different slots?
Is there any particular aspect of language that the school want you to concentrate on? For example, many kindergartens choose a native English speaker teacher because they expect them to work on listening comprehension (understanding a native speaker accent) and pronunciation
Is there anything they particularly want you to cover, e.g. a school song in English or the ABC song as they are teaching the alphabet in their other classes?
Will the lesson be a “demonstration lesson” (e.g. during a school open day) for some or all of the students or for watching parents? If so, what do they want to be demonstrated, e.g. how are they advertising their English lessons?
What are the normal rules for the children and teachers of the school, e.g. about taking off shoes, lining up, greetings, drinking and going to toilet during class, putting the classroom back at the end of the class or apologising for lateness?
Is there a policy on use of L1 by the teachers and students?
What punishments are the students used to?
Do you have to take off your shoes when you enter the school or particular areas? If so, will slippers be provided?
When should you arrive?
If you want to arrive early, will the school be open and will there be somewhere to sit and prepare?
Will you be able to go into the classroom early to get ready?
Will there be time to clear up afterwards, or will the classroom be needed straightway for something else?
If a class starts late, should you run the class for the usual length or finish the lesson at the usual time?
How will the classroom look when the teacher enters? What changes are possible to that before or during class?
Do they have desks and chairs? Is it possible to move them out of the way? If they don’t have any, is it okay to do colouring etc on the floor?
Will you need to cover the floor or tables, e.g. during craftwork?
Will the teacher be able to enter the class before the lesson starts to set up etc? If so, how long before the lesson starts, will the classroom be empty or not at that time, and will the classroom be used for other things between that time and when you teach?
Is there a space for the teacher to prepare lessons, have lunch etc?
Will the students enter the classroom or will the teacher go to them? If the former, does the teacher need to go and fetch the students or will someone else sort that out?
Is there enough room to move around? If not, is it possible to make a space or move outside for certain activities?
What equipment is there for playing music, e.g. a CD player? Will that need to be brought into the room or set up before the beginning of the class?
What other equipment is there, e.g. TV and video, crayons, pencils, child safe scissors, card, blank paper, a beach ball, puppets, a whiteboard or blackboard, card, scrap paper, coloured paper, stickers, sellotape, blutack, floor mats or magnetic letters?
Will the equipment already be in the classroom? If so, where is it stored? If not, where can you find it so that you can take it into the classroom?
Does material being in the classroom or teachers’ room mean that you can use it?
If you bring material in, will there be somewhere to store it?
How can you make sure parents see any work the kids take home, homework etc?
Do they want you to use a textbook? If so, are they going to choose it or can you? Is it possible to order the workbook too?
If there are textbooks, is it better for the children to take them home (or to their usual classroom) or for you to keep them?
Can you do your photocopying there, or should you bring colouring worksheets etc with you?
Will they have coats, bags, shoes, craftwork from other lessons with them? If so, where can they go?
Health and safety
What is the procedure if a fire alarm goes off?
Are there any parts of the classroom that you need to be careful about, e.g. sharp edges on furniture when they are moving round or things that are easy to break?
Will the children have name badges? If so, will they be in Roman script?
Do you need to take a register or keep records of what you have covered in the lesson? If so, should you keep them with you or is there somewhere you should keep them?
Who is the contact person and what is the contact telephone number in case you are late, get lost on the way there or will be absent?
This is something worth looking into if you are new to the country you will be teaching in or new to the cultures of the students who will be in the class, or are generally familiar with those things but are likely to come across new aspects by dealing with this age range for the first time. Here are some things you might want to find out from books (e.g. Preschool in Three Cultures), online forums, school management etc. Please be aware that many of these things are done so naturally that people don’t even notice that they are doing them and so answers to these questions might not be easy to find. Another approach is therefore just to have them in the back of your mind as things to look out for as you start teaching. Another thing to bear in mind is that as the representative of the English language you often have the option of introducing the kids and the school to a different way of answering these questions.
If one child is upset or misbehaving, is the teacher more likely to take that child aside and ignore the other students until it is sorted out or to ignore that child and keep on teaching the class?
What are the attitudes to fighting, peer pressure, using rude words (actually maybe not rude even though they have the same meaning as rude words in other languages), bodily contact etc?
How much of an emphasis is there on health and safety? Are a few bumps and scratches seen as a part of growing up or as bad teaching or parenting skills?
Are questions generally dealt with directly or passed up the command chain and then across (e.g. asking your line manager to talk to parents rather than you)?
How is physical violence on the teacher or very rough play on the teacher seen when it is by very young children like the ones you will be dealing with?
What are the attitudes to sitting on the floor, walking certain places with your shoes on etc?
Are there any gestures you might use to explain activities, vocabulary etc that might be misunderstood or even be rude? Ditto for words that sound like rude words in their language(s).
Other cultural questions to think about or ask about
Will you use local gestures because they are easy to understand, or will you try to introduce them to less familiar ones?
Are you relying on them understanding animal or other noises that actually vary by language (e.g. “baa” for a sheep when it is often “maa” in other languages)?
Do you want to introduce any aspects of foreign culture, e.g. shaking hands?
Are there any fruits, animals, festivals, types of weather, clothing etc that are worth leaving out of the lesson because students won’t be familiar with them?
Are there different ways of counting ages in that country and your own (e.g. starting from one when you are born)? If so, will you teach them your way, let them answer their way, or just avoid asking about ages?
Is it worth using non-English forms like Mr/Ms plus first name or local respectful titles for teachers in order to install the correct level of formality?
Questions for the teacher to think about
Bearing in mind that there might be very shy or even crying students or great difficulty in getting their attention, how are you going to start the lesson?
If they probably already know some English, how much do you want the lesson to be revision, checking their knowledge and boosting their confidence, and how much new language do you want to introduce?
What will your approach be to using L1 (if you can decide on this for yourself)? Will you use at least a little to show your respect for their language and culture, or will that just discourage them from using English in class or make them expect more explanations in L1? Will you use L1 in emergency situations like crying children or to stop dangerous play, or will you ask someone else to do that in order to preserve the illusion that the children should only use English with you? Will you feign not understanding when they speak to you in L1, or will you allow that but insist that they say stuff that you know they know in English?
What will your reaction be if the children make racist or homophobic comments about you, characters in the book etc?
What will you do if an activity doesn’t work?
How can you make sure you don’t run out of material?
How can you make sure you finish the class on time and not have to finish the last activity halfway through?
What will you do if something unexpected like musical equipment not working, furniture being absent or in the wrong positions, students knowing much more or much less than you expected, parents or other teachers prompting the students, crying, discipline problems etc happening?
Are you going to give rewards, use points, put them into teams etc? Are they old enough for that to work well?
If you are going to use punishments, which ones will be used for small or first infractions, and which ones will be saved as “the ultimate punishment”?
What activities can you use for warmers and coolers?
Do you want to introduce them to a typical lesson on day one, or are there things like colouring and crafts that are best left until later?
Is there anything you are going to use which isn’t safe for the kids to handle or that they could easily damage? If so, how can you keep it out of their hands?
If you are using a storybook, is it adaptable (e.g. saying simpler things than the text or skipping the middle) if the level of the students or their attention spans are different from what you expected?
If you are using a song, will you demonstrate what you want them to do before you start it, or get the music going to get their attention first?
Is it worth explaining what you are going to do to the classroom assistant, school management, watching parents and/ or children?
Do you want to give them something to take home at the end of the lesson?
Are the games simple and quick enough to explain?
If you need to move around, how will you get all your stuff to and from the classroom?
Are you going to give homework? If so, will you do so from the first lesson or introduce it later? How will you make sure they understand what they have to do and by when and that they remember? Will you need to communicate to anyone else, e.g. parents or other teachers, what the homework is?
Diana Smith Oeding says:
Holy moly, as we say in good jargon English. This is fantastic. I have basically and unknowingly done of lot of this thru trial (and an occasional error) with my own children and their friends, and now have two grandchildren with whom I have reverted back to these principals to get them in line, and learn a second language. Was considering young children or adult instruction. Teaching young children can be a challenge, but oh so easy if you use these basics here. Ask a boy if he is strong enough to help you with something, OF COURSE he is. And when they have done a great job, oh how SMART they are, did it just right, and so proud they are. Keep on passing on good, positive advice. Very much appreciated.
Sue Casey says:
Congratulations Alex on this very comprehensive list of important issues to be considered when teaching English to kindergarten students. Having had experience in managing and teaching such programs in Hong Kong in the early 80’s I would like to add a few more things to be thought about.
Pinning up children’s work was often a no no. Check the policy. Get around it by using portable cardboard panels. See if these can be stored within the school so they can be used next time for revision, then they can go home.
Think about the value of unstructured play with sand and water. This is invaluable as it is a lot of fun and language can naturally flow as you join in and ask for the yellow cup etc. Management will probably need convincing that this is a valuable activity and worth the effort and mess that is likely to ensue.
Serving biscuits and drink during the class helps get across polite formulaic expressions such as please and thank you and assists with counting in an authentic way. See if you are allowed to do this and again, think about the health and safety issues. No peanuts.
See if you can cost in copies of songs used in your program for children to take home and share with their families.
Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles and amahs can be a problem especially if they expect to be able to sit in on the class. They often start talking amongst themselves and cause a distraction. It is best if they have space outside to watch through the window.
Best of luck to everyone teaching in this exciting, rewarding and challenging area.
Christine Taylor says:
An excellent item. I came to Thailand to teach Kindergarten 3 4 months ago, my first teaching position with this age group.
I can honestly say that if I’d had this brief of questions and been able to find someone to go through them with I could have started with a lot more confidence and been much better prepared.
Well done. I know the answers now for my class but I am filing it away for next year!